Monday, 28 March 2011

Frank Scarratt and his Derbyshire postcards

I'm a devotee of postcards. It's that simple, really. Whether a modern multi-view showing where a friend spent theirs summer holiday, a scene displaying a historically significant building, an "arty" photograph, or a "real photo" posed studio postcard portrait, of the type that feature strongly in my Derbyshire Studios portfolios, I have always enjoyed both sending and receiving them.

It is sad that, over the last decade or so, postcards have been overtaken by the universal ease of text messaging and email. As most of us know, it wasn't long ago that they were the quickest cheap method of letting your family back home know that you were okay and enjoying yourself, or perhaps merely maintaining a "between Christmas cards" correspondence with old friends.

128. Victoria Avenue, Borrowash
Sepia monochrome colour wash postcard, F.W. Scarratt, 1907

Although I have featured scenic postcards previously on Photo-Sleuth, the articles have dealt largely with the subjects of the images, rather than the postcards themselves and the publishers or photographers. In this article, I'd like to discuss a Derby man whose name has become synonymous with postcards of Derbyshire. F.W. Scarrat is the subject of Yesterday's Derby and its Districts, Rod Jewell's excellent book published in 1995 by Breedon Books, featuring a wide variety of examples from his own collection. While he is arguably less well known than W.W. Winter and Richard Keene, the prolific Scarratt's postcard views spanned a period of over three decades.

96. Kedleston Road, Showing St Aiden's Church, Derby
Colourized postcard, F.W. Scarratt, 1906

Although invented in the 1870s, picture postcards only started being produced in any appreciable numbers in the United Kingdom in the late 1890s, after they had been authorised by the Royal Mail in 1894. By the time Frank Scarratt (1876-1964), a Derby stationer, started publishing postcards in early 1906 from his shop at 114 Abbey Street, using scenic photographs that he had taken himself, he was entering a well established market. Initially at least, his scenic views were printed in Germany, which perhaps offered cheaper and/or technologically superior options than were available in England at the time.

London Road, Derby
Colourized postcard, Valentine's Series, Postmarked Oct 1905

The first couple of hundred of his colourized and monochrome colour wash scenes followed fairly closely the styles of those already being produced and sold in large numbers by long stablished firms such as James Valentine of Dundee (example shown above). His townscapes generally included a view of a busy urban or quieter suburban street bordered by shops, houses or other notable buildings, trees, electricty lines and lamp posts.

148. Kedleston Road from Five Lamps, Derby.
Colourised postcard (grey frame), F.W. Scarratt, 1907

A large proportion of postcards from this period include a tram somewhere in the fore, middle or background, often accompanied by several other forms of transport, as well as numerous pedestrians, and Scarratt's are no different. The focus on trams is unsurprising considering the rapid expansion of municipal electric tram systems during the 1890s and early 1900s. Several writers have commented on the fact that Frank also managed to include his bicycle within the frame of a good many of his views.

107. Mill Hill, Derby
Colourized postcard (Brown frame), F.W. Scarratt, 1907

In 1907 and 1908 he produced a variety of views with simple wide brown (wood grain finish), white or gray frames, which again followed the trends set by other publishers such as Valentine, AE Shaw (Blackburn), JG Cox (Nottingham), Boots' Pelham Series, and the Grenville and Clumber Series (by unknown publishers), all of whom marketed a variety of Derbyshire scenes. During those first few years he built up a significant portfolio, with about 100 views published in 1906, 52 in 1907, and 108 in 1908, bringing the total to an impressive 260 by the end of his third year in business.

197. Rolleston Hall, Rolleston-on-Dove
Colourized postcard (Scroll frame), F.W. Scarratt, 1908

Then in 1908 he started experimenting with a series of more ornate frames. The first of these appears to have been an oval-shaped scroll type surrounding the picture, and with a brown, wood-grain background, used in at least six different views.

293. Canal Bridge, Weston-on-Trent
Sepia postcard (Ornate frame), F.W. Scarratt, 1909

While the colourized scenes were quickly phased out, the lavishly decorated frames became elaborate and varied, and soon developed into his signature style.

Image © 2011 Brett PayneDistribution of Scarratt postcard scenes, 1906-1910
Rings show distance from Derby, at 10 km intervals

As the distribution map above shows, he was also venturing some distance from Derby in search of subjects. The majority of his 400 odd views up to the end of 1910 were taken within 20 kilometres of his home town, but he did on occasion travel a little further afield to places of particular interest, such as Quorn (Leicestershire), Alton and Mayfield (Staffordshire) and Polesworth (Warwickshire). It is possible that these were in response to special commissions. The almost complete absence of views from east of the River Erewash, even well within the 20 kilometre radius from Derby, suggests to me that he faced some significant local competition in that direction, perhaps from a Nottingham-based publisher.

213. The Vicarage, Barton-under-Needwood
B/W postcard (Narrow white border), F.W. Scarratt, 1908

Scarratt made a number of visits to the small village of Barton-under-Needwood, not far from Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire, possibly since he was born nearby and still had family living there. The example shown above uses the simple narrow white border style that he employed only intermittently early his career, but which from about 1914 onwards started to dominate his production.

375. Police Courts, Burton-upon-Trent
B/W postcard (Palette style), F.W. Scarratt, 1910

Introduced in 1910 a frame in the form of a painter's palette was perhaps designed to lend a more artistic air to the postcards. It was used in a number of different forms until 1913, so was obviously popular.

260. 3 Views of Derby
B/W postcard (3x-multiview), F.W. Scarratt, 1908

At the same time Scarratt published postcards in a number of multi-view formats. The early example shown above is slightly unusual, the more common types having four or five panels with rectangular and palette-shaped outlines (below).

380. 5 Views of Derby.
Sepia postcard (5x-multiview), F.W. Scarratt, 1910

The year 1911 brought a move from Abbey Street to Normanton Road; around the same time he opened a shop in the Market Hall, Derby, which quickly became the main trading premises.

Image © 2011 Brett PayneDistribution of Scarratt postcard scenes, 1911-1915 (green)

Scarratt's peak production was between 1911 and 1914, when he photographed an average of roughly 140 new scenes each year, so that by the outbreak of the Great War he had almost a thousand in his catalogue. This equates to about a dozen each month, which was no mean feat for a sole operator. The pattern of locations visited during this pre-war period roughly followed that of his first five years, with a few notable additions (Swadlincote, Kegworth, Heanor and Dovedale) and omissions (Belper, Mayfield and Alton).

Image © 2011 Brett Payne
Postcards published by F.W. Scarratt & Co., 1906-1938
Data from Jewell (1995)

However, output in 1915 was cut by almost half, followed by a sharp decline in production during 1916 and 1917, no doubt due to privations of war and the ensuing reduced demand. The graph above shows the variation in numbers of designs published by the firm over its 33 year period of operation, but it should be emphasized that this may not be an accurate relection of the volume of postcards ordered or sold.

1020. Donington Hall and Entanglements.
Sepia postcard (narrow white border), F.W. Scarratt, 1915

During the war, his scenes on occasion show signs of the times, such as barbed wire "entanglements" around Donington Hall, then being used as a prisoner-of-war camp, and the War Cross in Barrow-upon-Soar (1916, not pictured).

1181. War Memorial, Market Place, Derby.
Sepia postcard (narrow white border), F.W. Scarratt, 1925

After the end of the war, Scarratt's postcard publishing ceased almost completely for a few years. Although he did produce a small number of cards in 1920, including a couple depicting War Memorials in Barton-under-Needwood and Burton-upon-Trent, it must have been a very lean period. When he started up again in 1924, he revisited many of his old haunts, but also started to document the changing cityscape, such as in his view of the new bus terminus at Cheapside, and a couple of the recently erected bronze and stone War Memorial in Derby's Market Place (shown above). His lavishly decorated frames and artist's palette surrounds, once a significant point of difference for Scarratt, were sadly no longer fashionable, and they were almost completely abandoned them in favour of the austere narrow white borders which had already become the norm amongst other postcard publishers.

1537. Donington Hall with Deer.
B/W postcard (narrow white border), F.W. Scarratt, 1931

In the late 1920s and 1930s, a steady but much lower level output was maintained, with an average of about 40-50 new views a year. Although still visiting some of the regular locations - such as Donington Hall (shown above) where the entanglements were now replaced with peacefully grazing deer - he concentrated on the larger towns i.e. Derby, Burton-upon-Trent and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and tended not to travel so far afield as he had done previously. Judging by the fewer numbers of these later issues that are sold on eBay, I suspect that they may have been originally published in smaller batches than earlier issues.

1586. Derby in Flood, May 22nd, 1932 (Wardwick).
Sepia postcard (narrow white border), F.W. Scarratt, 1931

When Derby was inundated by floods on 22nd May 1932 Scarratt was quick to record the effect that it had on the city, and his views of a Trent bus nosing its way down a flooded Wardwick (shown above), and very soggy Sadler Gate are probably among his best known images.

762. Halfpenny Lane, Derby.
Sepia postcard (no border), F.W. Scarratt, 1913

The firm of F.W. Scarratt & Co. ceased publishing postcards in 1938, when Frank sold the stationers business to his son-in-law and retired to his home in Mickleover.

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction to Frank Scarratt's Derby postcards. Please visit the profile/gallery on my Derbyshire Photographers web site, where I have compiled a comprehensive catalogue with some further examples of his work. If you happen to have some Scarratt postcards which are not displayed, and would be interested in sharing them with a wider audience, I would be happy to receive some low to medium-resolution scans for inclusion. (Email)


  1. A fascinating an informative article - as I have come to expect from you. I will keep my eye open for Scarratt postcards and if I find any I will certainly share them with you.

  2. Brilliant article and a fascinating subject. Bravo.

  3. Hello! I'm over from Alan's blog. I am fascinated with the art and history of old post cards and have a small collection, myself. Wonderful post.

  4. Thanks Alan, very kind, although I get the impression they're a bit like the proverbial hen's teeth.

    Howard and Tess - Welcome. Your comments much appreciated, and I hope to see a selection from your hoard posted on your blog too, Tess.


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